Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vision Trip Day 6

These believers were very friendly & hospitable.

This morning we talked with G.S. about our experiences during the week, and whether we want to come to Suriname. We were happy to say that we loved our time there, and felt that we didn't want to leave.

We had some time to go on a date. Our friends watched baby Lyla, while we went out to eat, and explored a little. We had been so busy getting the word out, and preparing for this trip, that we didn't get to celebrate Erin's birthday. We even had to drive about 11 hours on her birthday. So we celebrated her birthday in Suriname.

While we were out, a stranger asked us to get him something to drink. I gave him a bottled water, and asked him if he knew about Jesus--he spoke very good English. I told him a little, and directed him to our friends who could tell him more. He spoke about having some knowledge & experience in the truth but had gone astray. We pray that God will lead him to himself, and establish him in the truth, and make him a light to others.

We had some time to do a little last minute shopping downtown to get some things to show as we tell others about the ministry here.
A beautiful old building downtown.
An old church building downtown.

 We got to visit for a short time with these believers. They just came out from ministering in the bush. They've been serving in Suriname for many years, the couple in the middle for 40 years.

We visited Sister C. in her humble home. I visited her last year, and she really wanted Erin to come, too. Her whole house is about the size of one small bedroom in the U.S. It floods whenever there is a heavy rain, so she has to keep her fridge up on stilts, and everything off the floor. She is not merely content with her home, but loves it, and doesn't want to leave, though her children want her to come & live with them.

Yet, her humble abode could not contain the enormity of her hospitality. She did not let her poverty stand in the way of loving & serving strangers. She insisted on feeding us, and she had a wonderful meal prepared, including the most delicious eggplant curry.

We finished the day having dinner with the S's, the family with whom we'll be working most closely. We said our goodbyes, since we'd be leaving very early in the morning.

A pastor & his family.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vision Trip Day 5

Our multicultural team visiting homes in the village.

This morning, I preached to a church of English speakers, the same church which I mentioned yesterday who are building a meeting place. The church has clearly grown since I was there last year. I preached from Luke 10, about the teacher of the Law who comes to test Jesus with a question, and tries to justify himself by his keeping of the Law, but Jesus responds with the story of the "Good Samaritan." The message was well received; pray that the Holy Spirit will bless it with fruit after I'm gone.

Later, we had sweet fellowship with the other believers, and split up into groups to visit homes in the village. We met some very poor families, such that it makes poor Americans look like kings. I've seen this kind of poverty before, but it is still shocking. We met some new English-speakers, who'd come here for work. We also had the opportunity to encourage a believer, whose husband has quit seeking, and whose sons have no interest. We had prayed a couple days earlier for a brother who is suffering from the shingles, and had only aspirin to help with the pain; today, by God's grace, he is feeling much better.

The ladies worked hard, cooking & serving food for c. 115 people.

In the evening, we had a gathering in connection with a birthday. (Not like in America, where the birthday boy or girl gets a bunch of presents, but where the family gives to the community through hospitality, and the community celebrates with the family.) The believers organized this as a ministry to get the Gospel out to their neighbors. The people would not come to a church building, but they will come to a home, to birthday parties, weddings, fellowships, etc. Such fellowships are common in their communities.

It is common at such gatherings to have music & stories & food. So the believers sang the Gospel, and proclaimed the Gospel, and welcomed the neighbors, and fed them. One of the ladires from the Missouri group gave her "testimony," and one of the men gave a message about Christ as the only Savior for all men. These were translated so that the people could understand.

One of the most encouraging things I noticed was that many believers from other churches came to support this outreach. There is a real love & fellowship here between believers of different ethnic groups & churches.

Pray that God will bless the labor of these dear brothers & sisters with the fruit of new worshipers of Jesus.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vision Trip Day 4

A group from Missouri visiting on a short-term trip.

Late last night a group flew in from Missouri. The organization sends people annually. We got to meet them this morning at their orientation meeting. We were surprised to find that we have mutual friends with a few of them. We may see some of them in the future when we are living in Suriname.

One of the churches that our missionary friend G.S. helped plant is working on a building for their meeting place. Currently they meet in the garage of the pastor, which they open & expand each week for their Sunday gatherings; otherwise they meet in their homes.

They purchased this property themselves. Last year, when I was here, it had been mess from the previous owners. They've cleaned it all up, and built a fence. Now they're buying sand as they're able to raise level--to prevent flooding. They are working hard with shovel & wheelbarrow to move the sand. As they are able, they will build a foundation & the building.

In the afternoon, we went to a village to visit people in their homes, and talk with them about Jesus. The people were very friendly, and many open to talk with us.

We split into groups to visit people. Several believers from other ethnic groups helped.

This is where many of the local people worship.

That night, the group from Missouri led a Bible study on men's & women's roles in marriage. Through this, we were enabled to see the difference in culture because arranged marriages are typical here. We have to be careful how we interpret the Bible, so we do not see it through the lens of our modern American culture, and read into it things which are not really there. Nevertheless, we had a good discussion of the Word, and good fellowship before & after.

So many have not heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. Will you come with us to proclaim Jesus?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vision Trip Day 3

Our humble upstairs apartment.

This morning we went to the supermarket, grocery store, department store, and downtown. There are no Wal-mart's! We got to see the miriad of fruits & vegetables, many of which we have no idea what their English names are.

They also love smoked fish.

We also went to an appliance store to see what the prices are like. In general, we can get what we need. Prices are higher than in the U.S. because they do have to import so much. Gasoline is about $5.55/gallon. Food is more expensive also. We will eat mostly local food because it is cheaper than trying to eat an American diet of imported foods.

Later, we went to a small village to visit our friends, and get to know them better. Lyla did so well; she loved being passed from person to person, and then wouldn't let go of R.M., when it was time to leave.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vision Trip Day 2

Happy Birthday, Lyla!
After getting some extra rest, G.S., the World Team missionary with whom we'll be working most closely, came and told us more about the field of Suriname, and the particular needs here.

Here are some of the specific needs here:
1. One or two families to work in the same ministry with us.
2. One family to train church leaders in another people group who are sending out their own missionaries.
3. People who will come short-term to help train & develop the church leaders.
4. We need a photographer/videographer to come & make a DVD for making the needs of Suriname known.
5. One or two people to do some accounting work, transferring data from paper to computer.
6. Two or three families to work among a people who have no churches, no Bible studies, and no evangelists among them.
7. One or two families to work among a people group who are responding well to the Gospel, but the need for evangelists is still great.
There is more, but this gives you an idea of the need for laborers. Pray that God will send them. Then come yourself.

Later we went to the missionary's home to have lunch with his family. His wife had made a wonderful meal of curry chicken, "dal roti," an Indian-origin favorite of people here, and pumpkin, which is also very common.

Erin enjoying some cake with the ladies.

Later, that night we had dinner with the same family, and the leaders of the two churches they helped plant. They also had a surprise birthday party, complete with hats, cake & a candle, for Lyla who turns 1 tomorrow. Birthdays are very special to the people here. They make an excellent means of evangelism, too. Many people will not come to a church building, but they will gladly come to a birthday party, and invite us to theirs.

Since English is their native tongue, I was able to encourage them in the Word. We read together the book of Titus, and I spoke about the importance of focusing on the Gospel (3.3-8). The Good News of God love & grace to us, especially through Christ, motivates us to every good, i.e., "beautiful work," not just doing the right thing, but doing what is good, loving, & attractive. Then, by the Good News we speak, and the "beautiful works" we do, we will glorify God, and draw men to Christ.

It is such a privilege to be here, and be able to serve God's people. But we could do this without the prayers & support of you at home who are helping us. Please continue praying. Thank you!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vision Trip Day 1

Michael & Erin in Trinidad

Day 1
It was a long day. We got up at 3:30 AM, after getting to bed around 10:00 the night before, got to the airport, and flew to Miami at 7:00. After a short layover, we flew to Trinidad, a small island off Venezuela. They made everyone go through imigration & customs, even if, like us, they were getting a connecting flight. So we decided to go outside the airport, and enjoy the day, while we waited.

Lyla, world traveler by age 1

Lyla guarded our bags while we walked around. No, just kidding! It was a beautiful day in Trinidad: sunny, low to mid 80's, a nice breeze, and surrounded by beautiful flowers & palm trees.

We were hungry from only snacking all day, so we went to the local food court, and had "doubles," a Trinidadian favorite originating from the Indian immigrants. They were quite delicious. To wash it down, we had a pear-flavored soda pop. After a nice evening together we took our final flight to Suriname.

God helped us out tremendously with the baby. She didn't sleep much during the whole 20 hours of traveling, but she hardly fussed at all the whole trip. She didn't seem to mind the take-offs and landings. She was happy & playful. That made the trip so much easier. Also, we had very few difficulties with immigration & customs & finding our way from place to place.

Bro. Peter picked us up at the airport, and after a 45 min. drive we finally got to our apartment & to bed about 1:30 AM.

Thank you so much for your prayers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vision Trip

We are so excited to go on our "vision trip." We will be in South America for 7 days. This trip is an opportunity to see the country & people, get a feel for what it would be like to live there, meet the ministry leaders there, and confirm God's call for us to serve there.

This is my wife's first trip outside of the U.S. So she is both excited & a little nervous. We are leaving our 3 older children with some close friends for the week. They will have a great time playing with the other children. We are taking our youngest, turning one-year during our trip, with us. We would love to take all of the children, so they could see what it is like; however, the cost is prohibitive, and having them along  they would make it difficult to get a good look at the place & people. Nevertheless, it will be difficult leaving them for such a long time.

Please pray for us that God will lead us, confirm this ministry as the right one for us, and use us as a blessing to the people there. Pray also for G.S. & his family, the ones with whom we will be working most closely, that we could develop a strong relationship, and that God would bless their ministry--they've been there many years already.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Journey in Preparing for Missions

In 2001, I went to Asia with a friend. There I witnessed personally to people of various religions through a translator. I saw & felt, first-hand, the desperate need for Christ in the world!

I was changed forever by that trip. I asked Erin to marry me with the understanding that we might end up anywhere in the world. She was willing both to marry me, and to go.

We married in 2004; our first son was born (2005); I graduated from seminary; and I began to serve as a pastor in Minnesota--all within about a year. There God richly blessed us with children: our two “souvenirs” a boy (2006) & a girl (2008). However, the whole time we could not get away from the desire to serve where Christ is not known. We even ministered cross-culturally to Native Americans on the nearby reservation, which only deepened that desire.

In 2007, we applied to serve with World Team, and went through a rigorous evaluation. These brothers & sisters gave us practical feedback about our Christian walk. They gave us some areas to grow in, and invited us back after a couple of years. This was hard news, but we took it as from God, and returned in 2010. This time, they accepted us--we were elated!

Since then, we have been serving in our church. And we have been discipled by the leaders of two churches, Bible Baptist Church in St. Louis, MO, and now Rockport Baptist Church in Arnold, MO. I visited South America in 2010, and shortly thereafter our younger daughter was born.

This whole journey to a foreign field has been a blessing from God. A blessing to our marriage; to our spiritual growth; and to our family. Praise him!

Thank you for praying for us. Please continue, as we gather partners to work with us & help us, and make our final preparations to go in September of 2012.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another False Prophet

May 21st, 2011 has come & gone; but the Judgment didn't come!

Jesus warned: Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray....False christs & false prophets will arise and perform great signs & wonders.” (Matthew 24.11,24) Those who followed Him warned of the same thing (2Peter 2.1; 1John 4.1). We should not be surprised that there are so many who claim to speak for God, or know the future.
Notice, Jesus said that these false prophets will “lead many astray.” So we should also not be surprised that many people follow the false prophets. And it is not that those who are led astray are ignorant or foolish people. Sometimes the most brilliant & learned are deceived with the rest.
There have been false prophets from the beginning. The first false prophet was Satan, who deceived Eve, and led our first parents in rebellion against God. Since then, the world has been full of false prophets. Because of their abundance, some cynically proclaim that there are no genuine prophets of God, no one to speak the truth from God, or tell us about God, or how we can know this God who made us & all things.
This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the whole matter, that, because of being burned by the false prophets, men do not listen to the genuine prophets sent by God, and therefore miss God. Though there be so much counterfeit money, this doesn’t diminish the reality or buying power of genuine currency. Likewise, though there be so many false prophets, yet God has truly spoken & given us the Bible.
Our ever-present need is for discernment, so that we can avoid the deceit of the false prophets, and heed the voice of the genuine prophets. The prevalence of counterfeit bills increases the need for careful examination to discern the genuine; it doesn't mean we should throw away all our cash.
For example, the false prophet pictured above, Harold Camping, predicted that on May 21st, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. God’s people would be taken out of this world to heaven, and the rest of humanity would be left under the judgment of God with earthquakes & mass destruction until October 21st, when the earth would finally be destroyed. Mr. Camping claimed to get his teaching from the Bible. He claimed to speak the truth of God, and launched a worldwide campaign to warn people of God’s Judgment Day. He was obviously wrong!
Does that mean, therefore, that God does not exist or that He won’t judge us? Absolutely not. Yes, the God who made us all is holy & hates evil; sin is a personal affront to Him. God will judge our every thought, word & deed. Mr. Camping’s false prophecies do not diminish the fact that God will hold us accountable for how we live this life (2Corinthians 5.10).
Don’t be deceived, “God has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed...” (Acts 17.30,31) That Man that God appointed to judge us all is Jesus. Jesus alone is worthy to judge us; he alone is perfectly just to judge us justly; he alone has been appointed by His Father to judge us all. And the Father would confirm & assure us of Jesus’ authority to judge us, so He raised Jesus from the dead: “...of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (v. 31) There is now a resurrected Man, Jesus, who rules from heaven, and will at God’s appointed time return & judge all men. Not only will he judge all who are alive when he returns, but also he will raise all who have died from their graves, and then judge them in their resurrected bodies (John 5.26-29). Death is no escape from God's justice. Don’t ignore the genuine truth of God because of a counterfeit.
However, God does not delight in judgement; he delights in mercy (Ezekiel 33.10,11; Psalm 103.8-13; Malachi 7.18-20). That is why He sent His Son to become the Man Jesus to reconcile us to Himself. It is amazing but true, that the Creator, who cannot stand the sight of evil, desires to be reconciled to us his rebellious children. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them.” (2Corinthians 5.19)
And the Son of God willingly became a man in order to take our guilt & reproach & punishment upon Himself. “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9.26) He put away our sins which stood between us & God. In love, Jesus, who sinned not once, became the sinner before God, so that we the wicked might be made the righteous ones in Him (2Corinthians 5.21).
What grace! God does not leave us to go our own way unto destruction, but rescues us from what we deserve. God, the offended party, does not wait for us, the offenders, to come to Him; rather, He comes down to us in our pollution, and cleanses us, adopts us, and brings us home to Himself. This is the Creator, and we may freely be His adopted sons, but only through the one Mediator He has appointed--Jesus Christ (John 14.6; 1Timothy 2.5).
Don’t fear the changing predictions of false prophets like Harold Camping. Rather, fear the Holy God who will hold us all accountable, even after death. And fear this resurrected Jesus, who may return at any time; then He will judge each of us. But now there is a door of mercy opened through this same Jesus; trust in Him & He will bring you safely to God!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bates Creek Postponed

In the providence of God, the youth retreat has been postponed until the Fall or Winter. Last year, the weekend of Easter worked well, but this year the churches involved are overextended. Nevertheless, they still want me to speak when they have it later in the year. To God be the glory!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Youth Retreat at Bates Creek

The Lord has provided a tremendous opportunity for me to preach to young people at a weekend retreat this month (April 21-23). They are expecting 40-80 young people between the ages of 12 & 18, plus counselors & adults.

The theme of the retreat is the persecuted church throughout the world. They will be looking at some materials from Voice of the Martyrs, having Bible studies, as well as, some recreational activities.

I will be preaching 5 times on the following subjects, focusing on the importance of the Gospel & missions:
1. How Good Is the "Good News"? (Romans 5.20)
Reaffirming the greatness of God's grace with its freedom & joy, which contrasts the bondage & sorrow in the world--truly a message worth proclaiming, that answers the longings of human hearts everywhere, and that will win the hearts of men from every culture.

2. The Big Picture: What on Earth Is God Doing? (1John 3.8 & others)
The work of God thru the ages, beginning with creation, and culminating in eternity, focused on Christ, and blessing every people, gives us vision & purpose for our lives, and affirms the importance of here & now in God's grand scheme.

3. The Seduction of Our Culture & the Power of Love (Matthew 13.22 & 2Corinthians 5.14,15)
Beware the deceit & power of our culture to draw our hearts away from our "reason for being" as believers, but the expulsive power of Christ's love for us casts out our love for lesser things, and focuses us on God's mission.

4. What Good Is This Body? (Philippians 1.20-26)
The great joy & purpose of our life now is to serve Christ & magnify him in our bodies, which we may do either by using our bodies for him, or by laying aside our bodies for him, both of which uses make known his surpassing worth.

5. What Does a Missionary Really Look Like? (Acts 11.19-22)
We are all called to play a part in God's mission, using whatever skills, knowledge, abilities & gifts God has given us to make him known among all peoples; the question is not whether God is involved in our lives & plans, but whether we are involved in God's life & plan, in his grand drama of the ages.

Please pray for this endeavor, that God would work in the lives of these young people for his glory, raising them up to be bright lights in their generation, not living for the "American dream," but to show forth the wonder & greatness of God's character & works--and doing so regardless of the consequences.

"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them--those who are mistreated--since you yourselves are in the body also."--Hebrews 13.3

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Making Peace

We've been greatly impacted by several materials by Ken & Corlette Sande. Ken is a lawyer, and has been using biblical principles for resolving conflict and bringing reconciliation in his own family, and as a ministry to help resolve personal conflicts, business disputes, church & ministry divisions, and complicated lawsuits.

Sande was really helpful in showing me my own sin of a critical, judgmental attitude, and pointing out exactly what its roots are. Here is a very searching excerpt from his booklet Judging Others: the Danger of Playing God:
"A key step in breaking free from the habit of making critical judgments is to trace them to their source and cut them off at the root. To do this you must deal with your heart. James 4:1-12 describes two of the most common sources of critical judgments. The first is selfishness. When others stand in the way of what we want, we strive to remove their opposition by tearing them down and diminishing their credibility and influence in any way we can (vv. 1-3).
"Pride is another source of critical judgments. Thinking that we are better than others, we set ourselves up as their judges and begin to catalog their failings and condemn their actions. As we saw earlier, when we do this we are imitating Satan by trying to play God (vv. 7, 12). Pride can also reveal itself in the inclination to believe that “I alone  understand the truth about things.” I think that my beliefs, convictions, theology, and doctrines are true, and I look down on anyone who disagrees with me (cf. Gal. 5:26).
"Matthew 7:3-5 shows that self-righteousness is another root of critical judgments. When we have done something wrong but we do not want to admit it, one of the most natural things we do is to draw attention to and even magnify the failures of others.
"Insecurity, which is a form of the fear of man, is a related root of this problem. When we lack confidence in our own beliefs and positions, and fear that they might be disproved, we often conclude that the best defense is a good offense. Therefore, we lash out at others’ views and judge them before they can judge us.
"Jealousy can also lead to critical judgments. As we see in Genesis 37:11, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his close relationship with God and his father, and they repeatedly interpreted his motives and actions in the worst possible way. As their jealousy grew, it culminated in their selling him into slavery.
"Another cause is self-pity. On occasion, many of us find a perverse pleasure in feeling sorry for ourselves. Therefore, we tend to interpret situations in a way that hurts us the most.
One of the best ways to do this is to interpret others’ actions as a form of betrayal.
"Prejudice is frequently a cause of critical judgments. When we have preconceived, unfavorable opinions about others simply because of their race, religion, gender, or status in life, we will consistently seek to validate our views by interpreting their beliefs and actions negatively.
"Unforgiveness can also lead us to look for the worst in others. If someone has hurt us, and we do not forgive him, we will look for ways to justify our unforgiveness. Finding more faults in the person who hurt us is a convenient way to conceal the hardness of our own heart.
"Of course, the ultimate source of critical judgments is a lack of love. Where love is deficient, critical judgments will be the norm. Conversely, where love abounds, charitable judgments should abound (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
"Think for a moment of the wide spectrum of love you have for different people. There are probably some people in your life whom you love greatly. Usually these people have blessed you in some way. You appreciate and respect them so much that when others criticize them, you automatically think or say, “Oh, that could not be true!” No matter what they are accused of, you instinctively believe that there must be a good explanation for what they have done.
"At the other end of the spectrum are people whom you love very little. They may have disappointed you, disagreed with you, hurt you, or blocked something you desired. If you are like most people, you are quick to find fault with them. You grab onto critical reports like Velcro and dismiss favorable reports like Teflon. No matter what these people do, it is difficult for you to acknowledge good in them.
"What is it that separates these people in our hearts and minds? What is it that places them on the opposite ends of our rating system? Sometimes the difference arises from fundamental differences in their characters. Some people are simply more virtuous and likeable than others. But in many cases the difference is found not in these other people, but in our attitudes towards them. If someone has not benefited me, agreed with me, supported me, fulfilled me, satisfied me, or otherwise demonstrated love for me, I am not inclined to love him—or to judge him charitably.
"Unless God does major surgery in our hearts, these attitudes will continue to control our judgments and destroy our relationships. The good news is that God is ready to operate."
I've had to go back an apologize to people I've hurt by my wrong responses to conflict. I want to honor Christ by living at peace with others.

We tend to run away from conflicts (such as avoiding the person, or pretending there's nothing wrong while we continue to think about the problem, ending a friendship, moving to a different church, divorce, etc.)--Sande calls this "peace-faking" responses. Or we tend to lash out in anger (verbal attacks, quarreling, gossiping, destroying the person's character, using fists, suing in court, etc.)--Sande calls these "peace-breaking" responses. Both of these responses are dishonoring to God.

Instead, Sande gives several "peacemaking" responses to help resolve the conflict & restore the relationship. He outlines many practical principles to use; these are not drawn from mere human insights, but from the Word of God. He uses many biblical references & quotes, and spells out how we can apply them practically in resolving our conflicts.

I appreciate Sande's realism: wherever people are, there will be conflict. And that includes the church; because we are sinful people, we will have conflict in our churches. We fight over differences in doctrine, order in the service, personal offenses, not being treated as we think we ought to be, being overlooked, under-appreciated, buildings & property, which songbook or songs to use, etc, etc, etc. Or we just pretend there's no problem, and continue faking until we can't stand the problems anymore, and run to some other church. I'm sure you know personally of different conflicts in your own church, or churches you've been a part of in the past. It is necessary, therefore, that we be prepared to handle our conflicts in a biblical, God-honoring fashion. Sande does a good job of fleshing out what that looks like.

Also, we will have conflicts in our marriages, our families, and between our children--again, because we are sinful, selfish people. Sande also shows how to apply God's principles of peacemaking in these relationships. We are already applying the biblical principles we've learned, and will definitely continue using them in the future.

Sande also deals with a very touchy, but important subject: how to speak to others about their sins. Here again, we tend to either flee or fight, either ignore the problem & say nothing, or come down harshly & cast our brother's sin in his face. (And often we exaggerate lesser matters to cause division; where we ought to give liberty, we give law, and judge our brother, trying to force him to our personal convictions.) Here, Sande helps us with some clear, biblical principles for dealing with sins in others. The goal is restoration, not condemnation. We must deal truthfully AND graciously; ignoring the problem is not the most gracious thing, and denouncing our brother or demanding repentance is not the most truthful thing.

You can read Sande's booklet Judging Others: the Danger of Playing God online. It was published in three parts on the following pages: Part 1Part 2Part 3
The books we have are:
The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
Peacemaking for Families
And his curriculum for teaching these principles to young people:
The Young Peacemaker

May the Lord Jesus use these aids to help you apply his Word in your life, and bring restoration in your relationships, so that you might be a greater light to your family, your church, your co-workers, and neighbors.